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Paycheck to paycheck

'I don't want to be homeless'

Judite Silva, 61, was laid off from Citibank in August. Now she is living on borrowed rent money and selling her gold jewelry to make ends meet. She poses holding a gold necklace her ailing mother gave her, the last of the gold she has left to pawn.

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times

Judite Silva, 61, was laid off from Citibank in August. Now she is living on borrowed rent money and selling her gold jewelry to make ends meet. She poses holding a gold necklace her ailing mother gave her, the last of the gold she has left to pawn.

Judite Silva, 61, saw the bad economy coming. For almost two decades, she has worked in the trenches of the banking world: accounts payable. From her end of a phone line, she listened to stories of growing desperation from other worker ants from all walks of life. Like them, her paycheck was never more than she needed to g et by. She feels like she could have warned the CEOs, even the president, that a disaster was on the horizon but doesn't believe they will ever listen to the Judites of the world. In August, she was laid off from her job at Citibank, and for the first time in 40 years, Silva cannot find work. Now she fumbles through paperwork with a caseworker at the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance in Brandon. As they go through the stack, Silva pulls out a notice of eviction from her apartment complex. Her body reacts like a marionette suddenly left without a hand to manage the strings. Her head falls, shoulders slump, hands fall into her lap, and a quiet sound whispers past her lips as she starts to cry. "I don't want to be homeless," she whimpers, and the tears come.

A good cry has become a daily routine. Silva feels helpless. Her world won't stop reeling. A few feet behind her, a man on TV is reporting on the stock market, down more than 600 points. A few minutes later, they're talking about the Citibank bailout.

Silva, who came to the United States from Portugal in the 1970s and became a U.S. citizen in 1993, speaks four languages. They mix together into a heavily accented English. "I have seen a big difference since 1991, when I was working in Rhode Island and the credit unions collapsed. Ever since then this economy has been going down. But lately, these last eight years, have been the worst," she says. "It's worse every day for everybody."

She's angry at the idea of Citibank executives benefiting from a bailout. "Have those CEOs worked as hard as my ex-husband and I? I doubt it. Do they get help because they have better brains than us? Yeah, but they can't make a living with just big brains. They need little people like us, and we are the ones that are jeopardized, and those good people will have all the money."

The Workforce caseworker tells her she can get health care through the county, and food stamps. She fills out a few more online job applications. Silva is borrowing money from friends and selling her gold jewelry to make ends meet. She has one piece left, a necklace given to her by her ailing mother. She hopes to be able to keep it and worries about what she will do after she has nothing left to sell.

"God bless them. I don't wish no harm to no one. I only want a job and to be able to be on my own like I was. … I have five more years until the retirement. All I need is a job that will give me a chance to work just until then. Then I will give my place to someone else who needs it."

About the series

As the recession deepens, more of us are having trouble making ends meet. In fact, 71 percent of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent survey. Times photographer John Pendygraft has been documenting such stories to put faces to the phenomenon. If you are living paycheck to paycheck and want to share your story, e-mail him at jpendygraft@sptimes.com.

See Judite tell her story and read nearly 20 other tales in our award-winning series.

'I don't want to be homeless' 12/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2008 3:02pm]
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